By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, August 11 – After seven months at the UN, Antonio Guterres this week named his chief of Global Communications, Alison Smale. Sometime in September - the UN wouldn't give Inner City Press a date when it asked at the end the August 10 noon briefing - she will take over a Department of Public Information that has been in decline in recent years.
Just this month the use of photos by DPI staff, without any credit to the UN, was exposed by Inner City Press. Spokesman Stephane Dujarric twice insisted is was only “small” operations which do this. But Inner City Press has twice asked about a photo of Guterres' predecessor Ban Ki-moon, credited only to “Mark Garten/AFP."
Blaming some (“small”) media while bending over backwards for others is a more pervasive problem at the DPI Smale will be taking over. The New York Times, to continue with that publication, profiled Inner City Press as the “first blogger” in the UN, here. The New Yorker followed suit. But once Inner City Press started to blog and about UN corruption, everything changed.
As questioned even by the UN's own Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression and on Human Rights Defenders, here, DPI evicted and still restricts investigative Inner City Press for seeking to cover and live-stream an event held in the UN Press Briefing Room, by a group which received funding from Ng Lap Seng, convicted last month of UN bribery. Inner City Press covered the trial, after having pre-eviction asked DPI and its partners about their links with Ng's "South South" empire.
A 2000-signature petition to Guterres and his Deputy Amina J. Mohammed, urging reinstatement of Inner City Press to resident correspondent status and its office, which sits unused by the Egyptian state media DPI has tried to assign it to, has yet to be answered. On August 10, Inner City Press waited and managed to ask Deputy Mohammed a question, devoting it to Cameroon which it covers, and not this eminently reversible censorship issue.
But it must be resolved: this week Inner City Press was unable to follow the Cameroon delegation to a part of the UN building which other correspondents can access, and was likewise unable to stakeout a meeting on Lebanon which others did. Inner City Press has urged Maher Nasser, the acting head of DPI from April 1 until whenever Smale arrives, to return Inner City Press to its office and access equal to less active resident correspondents; Nasser on August 8 said he would “review” but he has yet to “revert,” in UN-speak.
Inner City Press has urged that the restoration be done now, before Smale arrives, to take this legacy censorship issue off her sure to be full plate, and to avoid a distasteful and censorious "try out" which is not required of other journalists asking questions at the UN everyday (and many who rarely even come in or report on the UN.) But the UN continues both with corruption, and censorship. Global Communications? We'll have more on this.